Conservancy's First GPL Enforcement Feedback Session
byon October 27, 2016
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I had the privilege of attending Embedded Linux Conference Europe (ELC EU) and the OpenWrt Summit in Berlin, Germany earlier this month. I gave a talk (for which the video is available below) at the OpenWrt Summit. I also had the opportunity to host the first of many conference sessions seeking feedback and input from the Linux developer community about Conservancy's GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers.
ELC EU has no “BoF Board” where you can post informal sessions. So, we scheduled the session by word of mouth over a lunch hour. We nevertheless got an good turnout (given that our session's main competition was eating food :) of about 15 people.
Most notably and excitingly, Harald Welte, well-known Netfilter developer and leader of gpl-violations.org, was able to attend. Harald talked about his work with gpl-violations.org enforcing his own copyrights in Linux, and explained why this was important work for users of the violating devices. He also pointed out that some of the companies that were sued during his most active period of gpl-violations.org are now regular upstream contributors.
Two people who work in the for-profit license compliance industry attended
as well. Some of the discussion focused on usual debates that charities
involved in compliance commonly have with the for-profit compliance
industry. Specifically, one of them asked
how much compliance is
enough, by percentage? I responded to his question on two axes.
First, I addressed the axis of
how many enforcement matters does the GPL
Compliance Program for Linux Developers do, by percentage of products
violating the GPL? There are, at any given time, hundreds of
documented GPL violating products, and our coalition works on only a tiny
percentage of those per year. It's a sad fact that only that tiny
percentage of the products that violate Linux are actually pursued to
On the other axis, I discussed the percentage on a per-product basis.
From that point of view, the question is really:
Is there a ‘close
enough to compliance’ that we can as a community accept and forget
about the remainder? From my point of view, we frequently compromise
anyway, since the GPL doesn't require someone to prepare code properly for
upstream contribution. Thus, we all often accept compliance once someone
completes the bare minimum of obligations literally written in the GPL, but
give us a source release that cannot easily be converted to an upstream
contribution. So, from that point of view, we're often accepting a
less-than-optimal outcome. The GPL by itself does not inspire upstreaming;
the other collaboration techniques that are enabled in our community
because of the GPL work to finish that job, and adherence to
the Principles assures
that process can work. Having many people who work with companies in
different ways assures that as a larger community, we try all the different
strategies to encourage participation, and inspire today's violators to
become tomorrow upstream contributors — as Harald mention has already
That same axis does include on rare but important compliance problem: when a violator is particularly savvy, and refuses to release very specific parts of their Linux code (as VMware did), even though the license requires it. In those cases, we certainly cannot and should not accept anything less than required compliance — lest companies begin holding back all the most interesting parts of the code that GPL requires them to produce. If that happened, the GPL would cease to function correctly for Linux.
After that part of the discussion, we turned to considerations of corporate contributors, and how they responded to enforcement. Wolfram Sang, one of the developers in Conservancy's coalition, spoke up on this point. He expressed that the focus on for-profit company contributions, and the achievements of those companies, seemed unduly prioritized by some in the community. As an independent contractor and individual developer, Wolfram believes that contributions from people like him are essential to a diverse developer base, that their opinions should be taken into account, and their achievements respected.
I found Wolfram's points particularly salient. My view is that Free Software development, including for Linux, succeeds because both powerful and wealthy entities and individuals contribute and collaborate together on equal footing. While companies have typically only enforce the GPL on their own copyrights for business reasons (e.g., there is at least one example of a major Linux-contributing company using GPL enforcement merely as a counter-punch in a patent lawsuit), individual developers who join Conservancy's coalition follow community principles and enforce to defend the rights of their users.
At the end of the session, I asked two developers who hadn't spoken during
the session, and who aren't members of Conservancy's coalition, their
opinion on how enforcement was historically carried out by
gpl-violations.org, and how it is currently carried out by Conservancy's
GPL Compliance Program for Linux Developers. Both responded with a simple
it seems like a good thing to do; keep doing
I finished up the session by inviting everyone to the join the principles-discuss list, where public discussion about GPL enforcement under the Principles has already begun. (Note: discussion about this specific feedback session can be found on the thread on the list that starts hereI also invited everyone to attend my talk, that took place an hour later at the OpenWrt Summit, which was co-located with ELC EU.
In that talk, I spoke about a specific example of community success in GPL enforcement. As explained on the OpenWrt history page, OpenWrt was initially made possible thanks to GPL enforcement done by BusyBox and Linux contributors in a coalition together. (Those who want to hear more about the connection between GPL enforcement and OpenWrt can view my talk.)
Since there weren't opportunities to promote impromptu sessions on-site, this event was a low-key (but still quite nice) start to Conservancy's planned year-long effort seeking feedback about GPL compliance and enforcement. Our next session is an official BoF session at Linux Plumbers Conference, scheduled for next Thursday 3 November at 18:00. It will be led by my colleagues Karen Sandler and Brett Smith.
See you at OSCON EU!
byon October 14, 2016
My bag is almost ready to go - I'm heading to London for OSCON EU. The conference days are going to be packed.
On Monday I'm giving a talk about enforcement worldwide at 1:35 in the Buckingham Room. I'll be giving attendees an inside look into what legal actions are happening where, how they impact compliance and what the impact of this may be for free software down the road.
I'm especially excited to deliver a keynote on Tuesday morning, where I'll explore software freedom ideology, and whether it makes sense to think of free and open source software as a social justice issue. There are obviously so many critical issues like hunger and human trafficking that software freedom cannot equal in importance. After struggling for a long time to reconcile ideological rhetoric with this reality, I've concluded that software freedom is a threshold issue. If we hope to solve our biggest social problems, we'll need software and if that software is not free and open, it is much less likely to be effective in the long term. It's become apparent to me that software freedom underlies our ability to effectively solve any social problem.
Throughout the conference, Conservancy will also have a booth in the expo pavillion. We'll have Conservancy stickers, Outreachy flyers and enthusiastic encouragement for you to become a Supporter if you can. Please stop by and say hi!
ContractPatch, Step 2: Understanding the power balance
byon September 26, 2016
Employment agreements are one of the things that I'm asked the most regularly about in the free and open source software world, almost rivaling questions about licenses. My responses have always been the usual lawyerly responses of This Is Not Legal Advice and while I Am A Lawyer, I Am Not Your Lawyer (I'm generally not acting as a lawyer on behalf of Conservancy as its Executive Director either). But even from my early days of being involved with free software, I have seen that there's a lack of understanding about employment agreements and the ability of employees to get their agreements modified. Last month, Fred announced a new initiative that we are working on together, called ContractPatch. With ContractPatch, our goal is to help provide knowledge to employees, along with sample language for better contract terms. The first step in this process is understanding the dynamics at work in employment arrangements. Step 1 is knowing that everything is negotiable and step 2 is knowing where you stand in the negotiation. Quite simply, you likely will never have as much power as you do the moment just before you sign your employment agreement.
At the point you are presented with a job offer, your prospective employer really wants to hire you. Chances are, they've screened and interviewed a number of candidates and put a lot of work into the process. Your manager has thought deeply about who they want in the position and has probably imagined how it will all work out with you in the role. Both you and the hiring decision-maker(s) are probably very optimistic about what you'll accomplish in the role and how well you'll get along working together. At this point, no one wants to go back to the drawing board and start the process over again. You will be excited to start the new job but it's worth taking a step back to appreciate the unusual position you are in with your new employer.
As part of the hiring process, you'll be expected to negotiate your salary (this can be complicated) and finalize all of the terms of your employment. Terms of employment can also be looked at through the lens of compensation, and asking for more favorable terms in your employment contract can be another kind of perk an employer can give you if they have a tight budget. A classic contract negotiation tactic (I even learned this in law school) is to make an agreement stronger in the first draft than you really need it to be, just so that you can give something away when pushed. This is certainly true of many company's standard agreement templates. The only way to find out is to ask.
Once you take the job, it's harder to change your terms of employment (though it's possible, as we'll cover later). Think hard about the long term impact of signing the agreement and whether things could happen down the road that would make you feel less comfortable with working under those terms. We'll be giving you some examples of situations you want to be prepared for when we talk about specific contract provisions.
Asking for more favorable terms doesn't have to be an adversarial process. You can ask for an agreement to be amended in a friendly way. Employers often respect workers more when they advocate for themselves.
So, we'll help you think about how to engage with your employer while anticipating things that could go wrong down the road and how to ask for more favorable terms. You can sign up for our mailing list to be part of the conversation. While it may be easier to avoid negotiating your agreement, don't trade short term comfort for your long term benefit.
Help Send Conservancy to Embedded Linux Conference Europe
byon September 21, 2016
Last month, Conservancy made a public commitment to attend Linux-related events to get feedback from developers about our work generally, and Conservancy's GPL Compliance Program for Linux Developers specifically. As always, even before that, we were regularly submitting talks to nearly any event with Linux in its name. As a small charity, we always request travel funding from the organizers, who are often quite gracious. As I mentioned in my blog posts about LCA 2016 and GUADEC 2016, the organizers covered my travel funding there, and recently both Karen and I both received travel funding to speak at LCA 2017 and DebConf 2016, as well as many other events this year.
Recently, I submitted talks for the CFPs of Linux Foundation's Embedded Linux Conference Europe (ELC EU) and the Prpl Foundation's OpenWRT Summit. The latter was accepted, and the folks at the Prpl Foundation graciously offered to fund my flight costs to speak at the OpenWRT Summit! I've never spoken at an OpenWRT event before and I'm looking forward to the opportunity getting to know the OpenWRT and LEDE communities better by speaking at that event, and am excited to discuss Conservancy's work with them.
OpenWRT Summit, while co-located, is a wholly separate event from LF's ELC EU. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky in my talk submissions there: my talk proposal has been waitlisted since July. I was hopeful after a talk cancellation in mid-August. (I know because the speaker who canceled suggested that I request his slot for my waitlisted talk.) Unfortunately, the LF staff informed me that they understandably filled his open slot with a sponsored session that came in.
The good news is that my OpenWRT Summit flight is booked, and my friend (and Conservancy Board Member Emeritus) Loïc Dachary (who lives in Berlin) has agreed to let me crash with him for that week. So, I'll be in town for the entirety of ELC EU with almost no direct travel costs to Conservancy! The bad news is that it seems my ELC EU talk remains waitlisted. Therefore, I don't have a confirmed registration for the rest of ELC EU (beyond OpenWRT Summit).
While it seems like a perfect and cost-effective opportunity to be able to attend both events, that seems harder than I thought! Once I confirmed my OpenWRT Summit travel arrangements, I asked for the hobbyist discount to register for ELC EU, but LF staff informed me yesterday that the hobbyist (as well as the other discounts) are sold out. The moral of the story is that logistics are just plain tough and time-consuming when you work for a charity with an extremely limited travel budget. ☻
Yet, it seems a shame to waste the opportunity of being in town with so many Linux developers and not being able to see or talk to them, so Conservancy is asking for some help from you to fund the $680 of my registration costs for ELC EU. That's just about six new Conservancy supporter signups, so I hope we can get six new Supporters before Linux Foundation's ELC EU conference begins on October 10th. Either way, I look forward to seeing those developers who attend the co-located OpenWRT Summit! And, if the logistics work out — perhaps I'll see you at ELC EU as well!
Update 2016-09-30: One of the event conference sponsors was kind enough to donate a spare pass to the event; so I'll see you all there! I do hope folks become a Conservancy Supporter anyway, because we'll definitely put the money to great use to advance software freedom and help our fiscal sponsored projects.